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Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab):
Could some time be set aside for a debate on sectarianism? Unfortunately, a small number of football fans bring their sectarian views into the football ground. The police tell me that, on the night of a Celtic-Rangers game, domestic violence increases by 75 per cent. A survey carried out
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by the health service union, Unison, in Scotland a few years ago showed that, for the same reason, some hospitals were treating about eight times as many patients for stab wounds.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Jack McConnell and the Scottish Labour party on its anti-sectarian campaign? Will he also congratulate the fans of Celtic and Rangers who unfurled banners against sectarianism last week
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend both for raising the issue and setting out the answer. I am aware that both Celtic and Rangers clubs have taken initiatives and I agree that it is important to stamp out not only racism, but the sort of sectarian behaviour that has gone on for many years in Glasgow. It is certainly something that we should seek to avoid.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): We will undoubtedly have more debates on various aspects of the Government's mismanagement, but can we have a particular debate on the form and function of the Home Office, which was described by one Government Member last week as dysfunctional and by another as needing to be split up? The right hon. Gentleman will know that many of us have argued for some time that we should have a fully fledged Ministry of Justice and that we should dismantle the Leviathan that produces legislation like a sausage factorythe Home Office. Will the right hon. Gentleman allow us a debate on that matter?
Can we have a short debate on defence procurement? The deaths of the brave servicemen who lost their lives on the RAF Hercules just over a year ago will weigh heavily on every hon. Member. If there were the slightest chance that their deaths could have been averted by the provision of explosive suppressant, it should have been used. Can we have a sober and sensible debate about what can be done to protect our service people?
The Public Accounts Committee has published a report today on the channel tunnel rail link. It does superlative work in drawing attention to things that are going wrong in the Government. Had the Government listened to its comments on tax credits, the Rural Payments Agency and a host of other disasters, they might have been averted. Can we find a way of getting reports from Select Committees, including the Public Accounts Committee, before the House at an earlier stage, so that the appropriate lessons can be learned?
We have just heard the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, in answering questions for the Minister for Women and Equality, say that she will pursue the effect of the ending of the home computer scheme on home workers. I have to tell her gently that it is a little too late, when we debated that matter on Tuesday this week. No doubt she voted with the Government to reject the Opposition amendments. Can we therefore have a re-run of the debates on the Finance Bill on Tuesday so that the Government can get their act together?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that what is important about the Home Office is not its
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structure, but what it does. Although he has criticised the legislation produced by the Home Office, it is interesting that his party and his colleagues voted against a series of measures which were designed to provide protection for the public and safety and security for people on the streets. He has said that the Home Office should be split up and organised differently, but he is not prepared to support the measures that most members of the public judge necessary in order to preserve their safety and security.
I share the hon. Gentleman's view on the need to ensure that defence procurement provides proper protection for our servicemen and women. However, the particular example that he has raised illustrates a problem that always arises in procurementit is nearly always possible to find some safety feature or device which, with the benefit of hindsight, would have prevented a tragedy, but judgments necessarily have to be made about the extent to which each and every safety feature can be built into, for example, an aircraft. The safest course so far as aircraft are concerned is not to take off the ground, so the truth of the situation is that there is an inherent level of risk, and the Ministry of Defence, taking the advice of the armed forces, always minimises that risk. However, there will always be some irreducible risk, and judgments have to be made about the nature of that risk in order to ensure that the brave men and women who serve this country so well can do so to the best of their ability.
I have always recognised the important work performed by Select Committees. It is important that this House take notice of their recommendations, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government read those reports carefully and act on them, where it is appropriate to do so. Select Committees have a significant effectI know how much care and attention right hon. and hon. Members pay to their work, and it is important to go on learning the lessons that they outline.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Yesterday, the Home Secretary promised a statement by the end of May concerning the proposals to change the operation of the Home Office on the deportation or removal of foreign nationals. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there has been no change of policy in respect of a foreign national who has been charged with a criminal offence but who has not gone through a trial? As he knows, I have raised in the House the case of my constituent, who was killed by a foreign national. That foreign national was removed by the Home Office before the trial took place, so he was not able to stand trial. In any event, will the Leader of the House confirm that we will debate those matters before any legislation comes before the House?
I assure my hon. Friend that careful consideration is always given to such cases. Liberty involves balancing the freedom of an individual against the wider freedoms of society. In making such judgments, difficult decisions have to be taken. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has outlined a proposal to change the law to provide greater security for the
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citizens of this country, but necessarily account will also have to be taken of the individual rights of those concerned. My hon. Friend has raised that case before, and I recognise the importance of justice being seen to be done in relation to those who have allegedly committed serious offences in this country.
Mr. Hoon: That has been discussed at great length, having arisen out of various reports following the use of postal voting in the last general election. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Government are considering ways in which the security of the system can be improved. I look forward to his support when the Government bring forward those proposals in due course.
Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of yesterday's disgraceful decision by the Law Lords to deprive thousands of asbestosis sufferers and their families of their rightful compensation. When will the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform come to the House to make an early statement so that she can tell us exactly how we are going to legislate to ensure that workers get what they are entitled to and that working class people are not dragged through the courts by multinational insurance companies?
Mr. Hoon: I am well aware that each of these cases is a tragedy for those who have been involved, and particularly for their families. Equally, I know that there will be great disappointment as a result of the House of Lords decision. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that this is a complex area of the law and that it will take some time to assess the case. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will of course look at the advice that he is given in the light of that decision, to see whether further action is necessary.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Today we mourn the passing of a colleaguethe late Peter Law, the Member for Blaenau Gwent. New Labour, in an effort to prevent him from standing for Parliament, offered him a peerage. The man named as being responsible is the Secretary of State for Wales, who made the offer on the specific authority of the Prime Minister. When can we have a debate on this corrupt practice?
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